It was unlike any ice hockey game ever played in India. On a chilly day, some 3,500 metres above sea level, there was usual brouhaha, which often associated with special events, and crowds in thousands turned up to cheer the Indian national team and also to witness a two-time Olympic gold medallist and seven-time World champion from Russia, Viacheslav 'Slava' Fetisov, in action. That's some heady mixture for a sport which is yet to get a firm foothold in the country. It indeed was a very different and unique event. And that’s The Last Game in Ladakh. (More Sports News)
The event at Leh's still under construction and somewhat poorly maintained New Ice Hockey Rink, NDS Sports Complex will remain an important chapter of The Last Game – an 'eponymous' series sanctioned by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to raise awareness on the impact of climate change. It's no coincidence that Sonam Wangchuk, the winner of 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Award, set the stage with a heart-to-heart talk with Slava and Randstad India CEO, Paul Dupuis at Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh’s (SECMOL) Phey campus in the Indus valley, some 18 kilometres from Leh.
The following day, on January 15, The Last Game finally made its Ladakh stop with all the promises of delivering a once in a lifetime experience for the local fans. Dominated by kids and teenagers with a gracious sprinkling of middle-aged men, Ladakhis eagerly awaited the start of the match. By 11, two-third of the stands was occupied and still waiting for the arrival of the chief guest, Lieutenant Governor Radha Krishna Mathur, even as military helicopters continue to make sorties around the vicinity. Once the chief guest arrived, organisers jostled to start the match. But before that, Paul made a rousing speech.
“As a Canadian boy, growing up playing hockey, I moved to India, living in Bengaluru, in south India, I never imagined I would play ice hockey in India. So, what a joy… I think sport is the best connector. It builds community, it builds friendships, and today, it's going to build awareness of climate change. We know all of you here in Ladakh have been impacted by climate change. And we are going to raise awareness and are going to be loud and tell your story to the world and going take action to support you. So, with that, here we go. Are we ready,” he said, before ending with all-purpose ‘Jhullay’ to the loud cheers of the locals. And they knew what he meant.
The first-ever Lieutenant Governor of the newly formed Union Territory certainly came prepared to witness his first live ice hockey game featuring one of the most decorated players ever and expressed his satisfaction to be a part of the truly momentous moment. He mingled with the players at the pre-match rituals, and then dropped the puck at 12,000 ft above the sea level.
Once the pleasantries are exchanged, the two captains – Slava for the UN team and Gyaltsen for Team India – took charge and gathered their respective troops for the unique encounter. And soon, the hosts took a two-goal lead. But the visitors fought back to force a shootout at 2-2, and eventually won it 4-3. During the hard-fought match, there was a moment when Slava, now a 61-year-old globetrotter thanks to his role as the ambassador of UN's World Tourism Organization, showed glimpses of his brilliant past with a free-wheeling glide before taking a snipe at the Indian goaltender. It certainly was a sight that will continue to inspire young fans.
Also Read: 2019 - A Year Of Climate Emergency
The Leh leg of The Last Game between Team India and the United Nations team was jointly organised by Ladakh Winter Sports Club and The Hockey Foundation in collaboration with UNFCCC and Randstad India, with support from Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation.
Before arriving in the Himalayas, The Last Game had stoppages in different climatic zones in North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Its epilogue will be written from the North Pole later this year. And the hope is, there will be more seasons to The Last Game, mother earth allowing.
The love and affection showed by the locals and enthusiastic volunteers from all over the world, who worked overtime to make The Last Game a success will stand as a testimony to the fact that humanity still cares for the earth. But what the only habitable planet in the known universe needs now is more than love.